By Stephanie Storm
Beacon Journal sports writer
MINNEAPOLIS: The Indians just keep reeling off wins — despite the ineffectiveness again of embattled closer Chris Perez. The Indians held on for their seventh consecutive victory Thursday with a 6-5 win over the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.
Entering the game with a five-run lead in the ninth in his first appearance since blowing a save Tuesday — only to be rescued by a Jason Giambi walk-off home run — Perez nearly repeated the meltdown against the Twins.
In just two-thirds of an inning, Perez gave up four runs on four hits within a 19-pitch sequence to give the Twins life. After giving up a two-run home run to Ryan Doumit to pull Minnesota within a run, Perez was pulled in favor of set-up man Joe Smith. Smith continued to walk the tight rope before getting .185-hitting Darin Mastroianni to strike out and earn the save.
Unfortunately for Tribe fans, Tampa Bay continues to match the Indians win for win.
The Rays also recorded their seventh consecutive victory with their American League-leading 17th shutout in a 4-0 win over the New York Yankees, keeping a tight hold on their one-game lead on the AL’s first wild card.
With the Indians taking an early lead in the fourth inning Thursday, all the struggling Twins could manage was to soil the Tribe’s bid to match the Rays with their 17th shutout of the season on Brian Dozier’s RBI single in seventh.
That’s because the Indians had a better approach to Twins starter Andrew Albers on Thursday than they did the first time they faced him when the left-hander pitched a two-hit shutout.
Thursday, Albers held his own for two innings before the Indians loaded the bases in the third inning with a two-out rally.
Little surprise that it was Michael Brantley who got the ball rolling with a single to left. Nick Swisher followed with a walk and Jason Kipnis reached on a fielding error on Twins second baseman Dozier. But designated hitter Carlos Santana flew out to right field to quell the threat.
The Tribe quickly made up for the lost opportunity of the previous inning by pelting Albers in the fourth for three runs to take the lead. Ryan Raburn singled to left field, took second on an Albers balk, then scored on Asdrubal Cabrera’s sacrifice bunt and another fielding error, this time on Twins first baseman Chris Colabello.
Yan Gomes gave the Indians separation with a two-run home run off Albers that increased the Indians’ lead to 3-0. Gomes’ 11th homer came on a 381-foot laser that banged off the far corner of the ribbon scoreboard that borders the second deck in left field at Target Field.
On Wednesday night against the Chicago White Sox, Indians manager Terry Francona started managing like the Tribe was in the thick of playoffs in the sixth inning, with a pinch runner and a pinch hitter sent to the plate just to sacrifice bunt. The moves worked then — and did again a night later — when Francona started pushing all the right buttons an inning earlier in the fifth.
With Indians starting pitcher Zach McAllister having thrown just 68 pitches in the fifth inning, Francona lifted the right-hander with two on and one out. The move promptly paid off, as reliever Bryan Shaw needed just one pitch to send Ryan Doumit into an inning-ending double play to get the Tribe out of the jam to keep the Twins off the board .
Brantley, who with three more hits Thursday became the first Indians player since Minnie Minosa in 1959 to record four consecutive games with at least three hits and one RBI, put an end to Albers’ outing in the sixth with a bases-loaded single that pushed the Indians’ lead to 4-0.
But with right-hander reliever Ryan Pressly called into service with the bases still loaded, Swisher was called out on strikes to end the inning. Swisher showed his dislike for home-plate umpire Brian Gorman’s call by promptly tossing his bat, helmet and gloves in disgust while muttering to himself.
Still, the Tribe came back to tack on an insurance run in the seventh inning against Pressly. Kipnis led off with a walk, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Santana’s double to right.
After the Twins broke up the shutout bid with a run in the seventh, Brantley gave the run right back to the Tribe in the eighth with his third hit of the night — which ended up being key, given Perez’s all-too-familiar ninth-inning meltdown that nearly cost the Indians before Smith managed to finally save the Indians’ place in the wild-card standings.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.